Polling stations across Romania opened early on Sunday for a referendum in which suspended President Traian Basescu faces the vote of the people, who are to choose whether to dismiss him from office or not. The referendum comes three weeks after a decision by the Parliament to suspend the President on grounds that he breached the Constitution, a move which has been described by Basescu and his supporters as a "coup d'etat" and which was based on measures harshly criticized across the European Union. The suspended head of state and his political supporters have urged the people to resist this by refusing to cast their vote today.

Referendum decisiv pentru Traian BasescuFoto: Agerpres
  • UPDATE 1 Voter turnout by 10.00 a.m. in the Sunday referendum was 9.05% of the population, the Central Electoral Office announced. Turnout was slightly higher in rural areas (an average of 9.10%) as well as in Bucharest, where turnout stood at 9.39%.
  • UPDATE 2 Voter turnout by 2.00 p.m. stood at 21.37%, according to data collected by the Central Electoral office
  • UPDATE 3 Turnout at 5.00 p.m. stood at a little more than half the needed votes for the referendum to be validated - 26.89%, according to estimations of the Central Electoral Office.
  • UPDATE 4 Voter turnout at 8 p.m., three hours before closing polls, stood at 37.67%, according to data announced by the Central Electoral Office.

50% plus one of registered voters - or a little more than 9 million people - have to cast their ballot today so that the referendum be validated.

Basescu, who was elected for a second term in 2009, has since lost most support among the population amid a wave of austerity measures. In local elections in June, Romania's new governing coalition of Social Democrats and Liberals (USL), who oppose Basescu, reported impressive wins. Shortly after the local elections, USL launched a series of moves to support the suspension of the President by the Parliament.

USL replaced the speakers of the House and the Senate with their own men, replaced the Ombudsman and pushed through a series of measures to allow for a quick suspension of the President, whom the Parliament can suspend based on "serious breaches" of the letter of the Constitution. The Parliament eventually voted in favor of the suspension in early July, despite the Constitutional Court not finding proof of such "serious breaches".

The quick series of events prompted serious criticism and concern at European Union level, while Basescu and his political supporters, the Democratic Liberals (PDL), called it a "coup d'etat". They eventually urged voters to invalidate this "abuse of power" by not showing up to vote in the Sunday referendum.

In an attempt to reach the threshold in mid-summer, a period preferred by Romanians for their vacations, the authorities decided that polling stations stay open for four more hours than usual. Another series of procedures were decided, including the opening of polling stations in seaside resorts.

On Friday, Traian Basescu and his PDL supporters claimed that the governing coalition was ready for major irregularities and abuse during the referendum, pointing to measures which they say encourage "electoral tourism" - people moving from one polling station to another to vote several times.

Turnout data are expected to be announced at 11.30, 15.30, 18.30, 21.30 and 0.30.

18,200 polling stations were organized for the referendum, of which 306 are abroad and 34 on the Romanian seaside.

This is the second referendum faced by President Traian Basescu after he won another such attempt to dismiss him in 2007.